All I had enjoyed before was only a peace, a gift of God, but now I received and possessed the God of peace.” It was on this day, July 22, 1680, that Madame Jeanne-Marie Guyon experienced a flood of joy.
She believed that God revealed his presence within her and altered her completely. As she described it, “A readiness for doing good was restored to me, greater than ever. It seemed to me all quite free and natural…” In her autobiography she added wryly, “If one may judge of a good by the trouble which precedes it, I leave mine to be judged of by the sorrows I had undergone before my attaining it.” This included the deaths of two of her children from smallpox and a wretched marriage.
Jeanne-Marie Bouvier was married to Jacques Guyon when she was just sixteen. She had wanted to be a nun, but her parents forbade it. Her twelve years of marriage proved unhappy. Both her husband and mother-in-law harassed her. Consequently, Jeanne-Marie withdrew into prayer. Her husband and mother-in-law did everything in their power to keep her from devotions, even setting one of her own sons as a spy over her; but all they succeeded in doing was to drive her to prayer in the wee hours of the morning when everyone else was asleep. Perhaps because of sleep deprivation, she had visions while in these prayer states.
The years of marital misery ended with Jacques’ death. At 28, Jeanne-Marie was a widow, free to chart her own course of action. However, she had lost all appetite for spiritual things. She continued to do right, but only from a dreary sense of obligation.
It was after several years of this new misery that she experienced God’s glorious filling with peace. Now she saw herself as an apostle, bound to share with others the secrets of deeper spiritual life. She became influential at the French court. Her disciples in the palace lived lives of such purity that they stood out in contrast to the greed and sexual debauchery of the majority.
Archbishop Francois Fenelon became her close friend. But at court, Madame Guyon’s writings came under attack. She asked that they be submitted to the church for examination. Bishop Bossuet condemned them. He demanded that Fenelon do the same. Fenelon refused. He owed much of his own spiritual development to Jeanne’s influence. He compiled The Maxims of the Saints, which showed that saints of all eras held views similar to Guyon’s. Under pressure from King Louis XIV, the pope censured Fenelon’s book. Madame Guyon went to prison.
Madame Guyon still divides people. Modern critics say that Jeanne-Marie used self-hypnosis to achieve her “spiritual” states and trances and point out that she used “automatic writing” which suggests spiritualist practice. They wonder that she had so little to say about Christ (in proportion to the total number of words she wrote). But among some Protestants in Northern Europe and some Methodists in America, her mysticism is highly regarded.
Years later, Madame Guyon insisted that the joy she found on this day still remained with her. “When Jesus Christ, the eternal wisdom, is formed in the soul, after the death of the first Adam, it finds in Him all good things communicated to it.
- Degert, Antoine. “Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Guyon, Madame. Autobiography. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.
- “Guyon, Madame.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Mudge, James. Fenelon the Mystic. (incinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1906.
- Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
- Various encyclopedia articles.
Information extracted from Christianity.com.